by Andrew A. Rooney
For the sake of comparison, let’s say that Art Buchwald is the Jose Canseco of today’s satire-humor writers. (Relax, Mrs. Buchwald, we’re talking about his writing, not his driving.) He hits hard and often and knows how to employ speed in his favor. Then there’s Russell Baker, who is, oh, the Don Mattingly of the satirist-humorists; not as powerful as Buchwald, perhaps, but he can be counted on. So where does this leave Blount and Rooney? Blount is the Wade Boggs of the business. (Relax, everyone; we’re talking about writing, not social skills.) Blount usually makes contact, is consistent and has occasional punch, even if there’s some question about how much impact he creates or how reliable he is in the clutch. And Rooney? Let’s just say he’s the Darryl Strawberry type, essentially a lightweight who pops one once in a while and gets more attention than he deserves because he’s loud and abrasive and works in New York. These books are typical.
Blount (Villard, $I7.95) can be annoyingly devoted to his good-ol’-boy image. This collection of his writings includes a poem that says, “Where do women think they get/ The right to be so damn upset?/ What if guys got that undone?/ It makes guys want to hit someone.” He also rarely writes about anything that matters, and often seems to pad the fluff, as he does in “Where I Get My Ideas.” Its 7½ pages are full of such verbiage as “These are but vague and dainty approximations of the crazed, unwashed, slavering, half-naked sub-blips that careen, gobble, and interbreed along the space-time continuum of what we so blithely call the human noodle.” (Get paid by the word for that one, did we, Roy?) Still, he can be very funny, as he is describing his visit to a health spa, where a body-fat measurement was made: “I do not intend to publish what my percentage of body fat was. Let’s say it was high. Let’s say I had enough fat on me to manufacture an entire, if shapeless, ten-year-old child. And a box of candles.”
Rooney (Random House, $I5.95) rarely musters the energy to sustain a comic idea for one sentence, let alone four. There’s one advantage in reading his collection of columns: You don’t have to listen to that cat-whose-tail-has-been-stepped-on voice that is the bane of 60 Minutes. Mostly, though, Rooney seems merely foolish. He congratulates himself, for instance, on noticing how much a black mother loves her children after mentally criticizing people in a black area he drives through: “I pulled away, embarrassed at the prejudiced thought I’d had about the people living in this poor area.” To be provocative, he wrings out lists of aphorisms that wouldn’t be even banal on their spiciest days: “If all the truth were known by everyone about everything, it would be a better world.” And unlike Buchwald, Baker or Blount, he’s almost never surprising. His idea of an observation is to condemn big-city post offices: “Small-town post offices are great. Everyone is pleasant and helpful.” Right, Andy, and all avuncular, chubby commentators are full of homely wit and wisdom.